I haven’t been buying a lot of “actual” books lately. With the availability of digital books, and with the ability to have them instantly “in your possession” when the mood strikes you, buying a physical book has become less common. I certainly don’t buy books at bookstores, hahahahahaha!! Who does that anymore? It’s like I said almost two years ago on Twitter:
So between books, I found myself at Costco, browsing the books. Costco actually does a good job at picking its book inventory, they always have 5-7 books that are of interest to me. I was with Jenny, who as I have mentioned before helps me take things less seriously, helps me enjoy life, and somehow steers me in a direction where I’m bound to bump into something interesting. I’ll admit, I judge a book by its cover quite often and this book caught my attention. A boat, a silhouette, and the New York skyline of long ago. And the title, “Only Time Will Tell”. I was in a relaxed mood, and I felt like it was time to dive into A STORY. A real story, rich with characters and settings and page-turning narratives. After a quick check of the important aspects of the book, which in my opinion are:
1. Who the author is.
2. The opening paragraph.
3. A random paragraph from the middle of the book.
4. The length of the book, usually to match the estimated time of expected interest.
5. Context of the story.
6. What people say about the book.
The book passed in all areas except number 6. Curiously, not a single quote was about the book itself, but about the author, Jeffrey Archer, who I hadn’t read before but was familiar with. Now, when all the accolades within the book make no mention of the book, that is usually a sign that the book underachieved and that the publishing company hopes to sell copies based on the merit of the author, not on the merit of the story. Despite this glaringly obvious sign that such was the case, I purchased the book. Although I put it down twice before I reached the checkout but finally made the decision after Jenny told me the actualy price was much lower than what the back of the book said. So, for roughly $5 I bought an actual, physical, real-life book, with paper and a spine and everything. I didn’t know at the time what I had gotten myself into.
The book was marvelous, and reminded me at times of Tobias Wolff’s “Old School”, but on a much grander scale. MUCH grander scale. As it turns out, I had unwittingly picked out a book that would was the first of a five-book story that would span roughly one hundred years. It covers the life of Harry Clifton, born into a tricky situation that quickly becomes uncommingly and mesmirizingly more tricky with each turn of the page.
The more I read, the more I was presented with great writing, crisp and clear without wasted sentences or tangential sections. Everything is so neatly packaged that turning the page became an almost subconscious act, keeping pace with the characters and matching the pace of the story and the pace of the writing as if it all came out of Archer at once. But then it was never too fast, never too slow, everything being presented in perfect order, and even the waiting and anticipation so thoughtfully spaced as to catch the reader not just off guard, but off guard at the perfect time. There’s a difference, trust me.
I’ve never been good at talking about stories. Which is why I hardly ever do, despite this being a blog about literature. Even with movies, I can’t tell somebody what a movie was about, but I sure can go on and on about what the movie meant to me, what feelings were conveyed, and oh yea, it had something to do with a spaceship having trouble in space, or about a guy whose Dad died and he meets this girl. Yea, that’s the story and the story had depth and all that and most people, when asked “What was the movie about”, can start at the start and finish at the end, and do a great job of summarizing what the movie was about. I’m terrible at that.
I watch movies and I read books similar to how I listen to conversations. And this is something of a pet peeve of Jenny’s. I listen, but I listen to find the meaning. Contrary to what she sometimes thinks, I understand what she says, and I’m listening to what she’s saying, but what I’m really looking for is what she means. Deep down I’m trying to discover why she’s telling me the story, what is the motivation behind it, and what response she is looking for. Not that she isn’t a great communicator, she is, and not that I always try to placate, because I don’t. Great communication is something that we’ve had from day one. But every person has their own way of saying what they mean, few people come right out and say it, at least the important things, in a way that is without metaphor, or hidden within context that masks the core message. And that paragraph, readers, is a giant tangent. Bottom line is I’m horrible at summarizing stories, but I can analyze the motivation of the person telling it all night long. Jenny might say, “I’m not so sure about living in Pleasant Grove.” Simple enough statement, right? But what were the thoughts behind it? Did something specific happen to make her think that? Is she wanting to improve what she has here? Is she wanting to move altogether? Is this a loose reference to marriage, and the idea of relocation? Is she a spy and has suddenly been discovered? Witness protection program? Knowledge of an impending flood? Can she see the future and had a vision of a string of burglaries? I mean really, her statement could MEAN ANYTHING!
(Catching breath) So, the author, Jeffrey Archer, is pretty incredible. I’m surprised I haven’t read anything of his before. Check out his Wiki page. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s an amazing storyteller.
Lucky for me that once I was far enough into the book I happened upon unexpected news, that this was the first installment of a five-part series. The next book is being published right now and available next month. I can’t wait to find out how the heck Harry Clifton, now an adult, heading into WWII, comes to America and due to unforeseen and miraculous events, choses to take on the name of a dead man, and unselfishly allows reports of his death to spread across the Atlantic to England and collection of people that have become extremely familiar to the reader, with huge implications of his death affecting them all in very different ways.
It’s a great book, a fantastic story, and it has just begun. Highly recommended to all. I’d tell you more about it, but I’m not so good at that.
2012, Book Thoughts, Brian Utley, Jeffrey Archer, Only Time Will Tell